Church in £500,000 plan to help community

Reverend Martin Whiffen
Reverend Martin Whiffen
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A Chorley church hopes to make a real difference with a £500,000 investment in community development projects.

There are plans for care for the elderly, food education and a Chorley Art Week in the initiative launched by Chorley United Reformed Church, on Hollinshead Street.

“We do these things because they are the right things to do whether they are part of the church or not.”

Reverend Martin Whiffen

Many people could benefit from the 10-year project, which aims to improve the lives of people in Chorley and put the church at the heart of the community.

The church’s minister, the Reverend Martin Whiffen, said: “We are excited about it. It’s a game changer for us.”

The project started two years ago when the church invested £25,000 in research conducted by social regeneration company Pulse.

While the church congregation is growing now, there was concern it could decline in future due to the age of members.

So Pulse identified four key areas with gaps in social provision where the church could get involved.

They were wraparound care for the elderly, youth work, food education and a drop-in centre for different groups to meet.

Work is due to start after Christmas on new kitchen facilities at the church, for the food education part of the project. People will be taught how to buy and cook healthy meals, especially if they are on a budget.

The research showed a need for care for elderly and vulnerable people in the evenings and weekends, so the church plans to do its bit.

Mr Whiffen said: “If they want to come to church, they would be able to, but that’s not part of the deal.

“We would provide them with lunch, activities in the afternoon which might be as simple as papers or watching a film or playing games or talking to people.”

There are also plans to work with Brothers Of Charity to deliver an arts project in Chorley.

There would be an artist in residence to work with schools and community groups and the launch of a Chorley Art Week.

Mr Whiffen says the art week would be “a week-long destination event for Chorley that would put Chorley on the map”.

The church is not currently able to develop the drop-in centre with its existing building and will not pursue youth work due to plans for a youth zone.

The project will cost £500,000 over 10 years, funded by donations from members of the church and by the parent denomination, the United Reformed Church.

Some of the money will be used to support a new community worker post. This is currently being advertised and it is hoped someone will start work next year.

Mr Whiffen said: “It is a brave step of the church to support a post that is not focussed on church growth. We see this post as helping us fulfil our responsibility as Christians to love other people – regardless of their faith, race, gender, age or sexual orientation.”

The church hopes the project will make a difference in Chorley and could also strengthen the congregation in future.

Mr Whiffen said: “My experience of other churches is that when churches get involved in their community and are seen as relevant, people start to ask questions about faith and why people are doing these things. That’s when the church starts to grow.

“The aim isn’t church growth, but the result is church growth.

“We do these things because they are the right things to do whether they are part of the church or not.”

Chorley Council’s leader, Coun Alistair Bradley, said: “The investment by the church is a real vote of confidence in the borough and I’m sure it will be of great benefit to our community.

“We’re doing more and more work with the communities in Chorley to make sure we are providing services that they want and to encourage them to play a more active role in what happens in their neighbourhood.

“To have organisations willing to invest their own time and money into this too is great to see and we’ll be happy to work with them to make the best use of resources.”